Iraqi Americans Wasan Alqaisi and Sumer Majid made a Fourth of July family picnic of kebab -- served on hamburger buns with slices of American cheese.
Celebrating Independence Day in the U.S. capital, the two Muslim women were doing what generations of Americans have done before them: blending their faith and lifestyle with a U.S. national identity.
Eight years after Middle East militants carried out the September 11 attacks, Muslim Americans are raising their profile, encouraged by the election of Barack Obama, a U.S. president proud of his Kenyan father's Muslim heritage.
The president, who is a Christian, used his middle name, Hussein, at his inauguration. He called for new dialogue with Islamic nations and named a special envoy for the Middle East on his second full day in office.
"We are more optimistic about the future for us here," said Alqaisi, an accountant. "They changed the way they communicate with the Muslim countries. We feel like we have more value here now. We hope that will continue in the future."
Like other immigrant groups in a country of immigrants, Muslims were drawn to the United States seeking opportunity and relief from poverty in their home countries. Arabs went to industrial centers, south Asian Muslims to the West Coast. Some arrived to study in universities; some arrived as slaves.
A 2007 Pew Research Center study says 21 percent of Muslim Americans arrived from abroad during the 1990s.
The September 11 attacks put a magnifying glass on what until then had been a largely invisible Muslim American community, prompting many to organize. The Patriot Act limited civil liberties. Many felt they were being profiled. The Council of American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties and advocacy group, said more than 60,000 people were subject to new government actions such as interrogations, detentions, raids and the closure of charities.
CAIR reported a 64 percent increase in the number of civil rights complaints in the year after September 11, 2001. (More)